Leslie reminded me yesterday that my post about our southwest road trip did not mention a rather freaky experience trying to find a place to eat on our last night. It had been a long day of driving from the Grand Canyon to Nephi, Utah (pronounced “KNEE-fie”). Sitting at the Chevron waiting for the tank to fill we decided that a sit-down meal with a beer sounded good. The only option we could see was JC Mickelson’s Restaurant, across
the street. Once inside we were greeted by a host of weird people. The owner or manager, a tall, pale, bearded man, wore sneakers, white socks, khaki shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt. He greeted us and handed two menus to a small, pretty young girl of about 11 or 12 (although who can be sure these days?), who gleefully informed us that the night’s special was prime rib. I interrupted their excitement about the opportunity to serve us by asking if they served beer. Much wind escaped from sails. “No,” the manager said. He then generously tried to think of a place that could accommodate our request. “Not in this town,” he concluded. We thanked them and left, and headed over to Burger King.
We’d been too tired to realize how naive we were expecting to get a beer in Nephi. It’s funny now, but once we realized the hold of Mormons on small towns in Utah and the control they have over things like the basic human right to have a beer with your burger after a long drive, we were kind of pissed. But we got over it and headed to Wendover, where we camped in a Baptist church parking lot just below a row of strip clubs on the west end of town (the Nevada side).
In thinking about our irritation with Mormon “dry” policies or whatever you want to call their crass violation of our 94th Amendment right to a beer after a long day of travel, it occurred to me that we might be guilty of a double standard when comparing Utah with the Diné (Navajo; also spelled Dineh) and Hopi reservations. Inside the nearly 13 million acres bounding the Diné reservation, inside which sits the 1.5 million acre Hopi reservation, it is a crime to possess or consume alcohol. If we’d been stopped by tribal police for some reason, they could have searched our van and arrested us for the beer and wine we had inside. Thankfully that didn’t happen (or you would have much longer blog entries from me).
There are lots of ways to look at this. First, not being able to buy or drink a beer anywhere you want to just plain sucks. But then you have to think about the “respect for different cultures” we try to make part of our creed. I respect and appreciate American Indian cultures far more than I do Mormonism, which is more of a religion dictating a dogmatic and particularly natural resource-abusive lifestyle than a “culture,” but I’m sure real anthropologists would disagree. I’m probably equally familiar with Mormonism as I am with Native American ways of life, but what I know of both makes it easy for me to favor the latter. Indians have been screwed on this continent since before Columbus arrived, yet
they have continued to contribute some very positive things to civilization in the form of art, architecture, farming, medicine, and spirituality. The only really positive thing I can say about what I know of Mormonism is that they appear to teach decent manners to their kids; if you watch a Mormon family at a restaurant, you won’t usually see a bunch of kids running around like Tasmanian devils who think they’re in their own living room. I won’t go into the long list of what I don’t like about Mormonism, but suffice it to say that they don’t elicit the same level of appreciation in me as American Indians do.
So, to resolve the apparent double-standard of being pissed about not getting a beer in Nephi and appreciating and respecting Indian anti-alcohol policies, I think it’s fair to say that the situations are different enough that it really isn’t a double standard at all. It was – and still is – Indian land to begin with, so they should be allowed to set whatever policies they want and expect everyone passing through to abide by them. In Utah, though, the Mormon control of alcohol policy is excessive because the land there is not exclusively owned or inhabited by a single group. There, dryness should be personal choice. Is it beer:30 yet?